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Swiss Diary: Zurich

May 5. Zurich


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MAY 5, ZURICH

I've
just taken a SWISS flight from JFK and landed in Switzerland's largest
city. I'll be blogging daily this week as I explore the city of Zurich,
as well as Lausanne and Montreux in the French-speaking part of the
country. It's rainy and in the 40's here, a throwback to April weather.
But the profusion of flowering chestnut trees tells me that spring is
merely suspended for a few days. I'll be posting frequently this week,
so check back often for updates.


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Cafe Felix, Zurich.

HOW TO DEAL WITH JET LAG, ZURICH-STYLE

Here's
my formula: a 90 minute power nap at the 4-star Hotel Engimatt, in a
quiet neighborhood west of the city center. A five minute ride on the
number 5 tram brought me to Bellevue, at the head of Lake Zurich, near
the Opera House and the center of the city.

Food is the second
part of this equation, and the choice was easy. Cafe Felix overlooks
Bellevue, a Belle Epoque cafe where an omelet with schinken (ham) and a
mild Swiss cheese took care of hunger in style. The $12 price tag
reflects the fact that this is indeed Zurich, as did the $5 cafe au
lait. But service is precise, the setting bright and uplifting, and on
a rainy spring day, it's a great choice.

Culture, or at least a taste of it, seemed like the next choice. A
brisk uphill walk to the Kunsthaus, the city's main art museum and one
of Europe's finest small collections, was next. It is justifiably heavy
with Swiss master like Ferdinand Hodler and Paul Klee but there are
other delights, like a masterpiece by the rarely seen Robert Delaunay.
I used my Zurich Card (38 CHF for 72 hours, about $34) for free
admission (otherwise admission for that museum alone was 27 CHF), one
of many free admissions and discounts that it's good for.

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Eos Antiquariat.

Finally, a little shopping, in the form of a stroll down Kirchgasse and
a stop in EOS Antiquariat bookshop, where I found a well-weathered
hiking map of the region around Les Diablerets, a mountainous area of
Switzerland that my wife and I love, for 8 Swiss Francs, or less than
$8 US. It probably dates from the 1920's and framed, it will look
fantastic.

Tonight it's on to dinner at Rusterie in Sihlcity, a
former paper factory turned shopping mall, Swiss-style. On wonders what
that really means.

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Rusterei, Zurich.

DINNER IN ZURICH (DISCO BALL OPTIONAL)

Like
a lone reminder of Zurich's industrial history, the restaurant Rusterei
glows in a courtyard surrounded by the newer Sihlcity shopping area
buildings (a pedestrian mall filled with the usual retail suspects).
Rusterei is deliberately hip, a former paper factory turned restaurant.
Designed by Heinz Julen, a Swiss designer from Zermatt who created that
ski resort's Vernissage theater-cafe complex, it has a similar
vocabulary: an industrial chic embrace of concrete, steel, and oddly
inventive light fixtures. Tables can be raised by means of a pulley
system, the better to clear the floor and crank the silver disco ball
overhead. Last night, thankfully, things were not quite that lively.

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Felipe Murcia Nagel, who oversees Rusterei. 

The highlight was a menu suffused with asparagus — it is the height of
Europe's venerated asparagus season, and green and white specimens made
their way into smoked salmon appetizer and lemon sole entree. The wine,
a Zweifel Quintet from 2007, was a remarkably complex blended Swiss
white that was a testimony to local wine making in the hills
surrounding Zurich.

For a glimpse into the hipper realms of Zurich dining, it's worth the tram ride.

Details: Rusterei.


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ZURICH: GLIMPSES OF A PRIVATE WORLD

Zurich
is famously private — this is the epicenter of Swiss banks and the
culture of financial secrecy and security, after all — so getting
inside the mind of the city takes a bit of strategy. It's easy enough
to stroll down the Bahnhoftsrasse, the main shopping street, and be
seduced by brand name stores and boutiques offering a trove of
well-made and highly priced goods.

But to get a real feel for
this city of 400,000 that feels more like a large and graceful town,
you need to get off the main streets and head down the little lanes,
small streets and alleys that end with the suffix "gasse" in the old
city, on either side of the river Limmat. It is here you'll find tiny
squares with boxwood hedges and ornamental doorways carved in centuries
old stone.

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A Zurich fountain.

Quiet little havens where you can actually drink from one of the 1,200
plus fountains tucked away, most of them pouring forth water that is
potable. It's how you discover antique shops, boutiques devoted to
hand-made books or flowers, as well as cafes and restaurants like

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Wirtschaft-Neumarkt restaurant.

Wirtschaft-Neumarkt.
The lanes are where you'll come across the house at Spielgasse 14 where
Lenin lived just before the Russian Revolution. It's how you'll stumble
upon Schober,
the venerable Zurich cafe, and elegance personified, where you can
linger over a cup of what may be the city's best hot chocolate.

 

People live discreetly in these pretty houses with their subdued
ocher walls and geraniums, on lanes so quite that you hear the sounds
of footfalls on the cobblestones minutes before you actually see the
approaching person. There are playgrounds tucked into walled gardens
and a boat club for those who row the vintage wooden Limmat boats
across the river of the same name in organized races. You might find a
shop devoted to poetry books or a tiny boutique with but a single item
in the window, perhaps a piece of jewelry presented on a column  of
stone, illuminated by a pair of halogen spotlights in a 500 year old
building. It is precision and pleasure joined together. The Swiss
penchant for revering good design is everywhere, from the perfect
hand-made sign for a restaurant

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A vintage Citroen.

like Isebahnli
to the vintage Citroen parked in front of a high design furniture shop.
Zurich does not grab you by the lapels the way New York does. It's a
subtle place that rewards anyone who can wander off the beaten path for
a morning or an afternoon. Think of it as window shopping for the heart
of the city.

For more information, visit Zurich.

Read Montreux Diary and Lausanne Diary.

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